At 2015 Nationals, I ended up winning the Sealed Deck category with a slightly unconventional deck (relied on defense and lasting to end-game for a close win).  I ended up with a 6-0 record, but only a +8 Lost Soul differential (won 2 games 5-3 and 4 games 5-4).  As such, I could not afford to make a single mistake, and I was going to have to do so against the top player left in each round, who I could not rely upon to make mistakes either.  After a lot of thought, I put together a list of things that I would say to players wondering how to avoid mistakes in Sealed, though a lot of this applies to constructed categories as well.

  1. Understand that luck is involved.

Unfortunately, a lot of winning in Sealed comes down to luck, from what is drafted to what is drawn.  Soul drought or Dominant/character drawing will often cost you games of Sealed more than other categories, just because you aren’t able to control construction of the deck to counteract the problems.  You cannot build soul generation or necessary searches into your deck that could minimize the effect of luck, and so if you fall victim to it in just one game, it will cost you the tournament.  So the goal when building your deck is to understand what you are trying to do and minimize the potential for luck-based problems, but anyone who plays the category should go into it cognizant of the issue.  Don’t get yourself upset and frazzled by it, or you’ll make mistakes you can’t come back from.

  1. Try to minimize Hero drought.

One of the things that needs to be done with the starter decks is adding more Heroes.  Each only has 8, with 4 in each brigade, and that is too few for normal decks to be confident of having one in a brigade they need, or even drawing any to start the game.  By contrast, there are 14 good Enhancements in each deck, which makes for a very bad ratio of Heroes to Enhancements (even with dual/multi-brigade), leading to hand clog and Hero drought.  The defenses are 8 characters with 9 Enhancements, a much better ratio (even if not perfect), and normally shouldn’t be your main concern.  If you can draft Heroes in your brigades, you stand a much better chance of winning the game.

  1. Don’t waste resources, and know when to cut your losses.

Many newer players fall victim to this problem constantly.  While more of a problem in Booster, you’ll often see a player play multiple Enhancements and still be losing the battle.  They will play several of their negates in a row, just for the numbers, and then either still be losing by the numbers or immediately lose to an opponent’s battle-winner (without their already-played negates to undo it).  Not only did they lose their characters, but all of those Enhancements, too.

So if you are losing by the numbers significantly, and don’t have a battle-winner, what should you do?  Consider how many Enhancements the opponent has played in the brigades they have in battle; is it likely they have one to beat the numbers you could play?  Would it be worth exchanging the resources you have just to draw out that card?  Count the numbers on the Enhancements you have; can you actually win the battle and be ready for whatever they could still play?  Is that character you have in battle worth spending those resources now, or would the Enhancements you have be better played next battle with a different approach?

Essentially, never waste anything.

  1. Make your opponent waste resources.

Your opponent making mistakes is always helpful, but you need to be active in making them waste their cards.  For example, if a character attacks you, block.  There are very few cases when you should not block a rescue, because letting them walk by gives them 1 of the 5 souls needed without spending the equivalent resources to beat you.  Several times in my games, I blocked with absolutely no back-up, just to beat their numbers, and they bounced back or were discarded because it was a bluff.  Had it not been a bluff, they would have needed to use a battle-winner, and now that is not something they have later on.  I lose a character, but I will have more to block later when I also have my support, and they won’t have that battle-winner.

Similarly, battle challenges should sometimes be accepted.  If your opponent just enters battle with Boaz to draw or Gabriel/Elders of the City to search, block with a large character that has the numbers to kill them (particularly if you can do something else like look at their hand with Emperor Tiberius or draw with Quirinius and then band for numbers). If they play a battle-winner or other Enhancement for numbers, they used up resources (or lost what they just tried recurring) without rescuing a soul, and that is a huge win for you.  If they don’t, they lose important characters, and that is also huge for you.

Of course there are Evil Characters who may be more important to hold on to until you have a combo set up (Saph and a weapon come to mind), but you need your opponent to use up their battle-winners (including Angel of the Lord) before they get to 4 or your chances of winning drop considerably.

On the flip side, throwing a Hero for a rescue attempt just to draw out defensive cards is a strong tactic.  No Enhancements?  Throw Samson or Legion of Angels into battle anyway.  They are not essential to your offense and have huge numbers that require resources to be spent on defeating them.  If your opponent cannot do so (or is not willing to give up the required cards), you get a free soul.  Even if they can block you, those cards will not be available to block your later rescues using more important Heroes.  You have to face their defense at some point, and you must start beating it down before you can win the game.

Lastly, don’t use Dominants to block without forcing Enhancements to be played, when you can help it.  If you have a sure block in hand (like Christian Martyr against a lone Hero or Strife as well against a band), but you have large enough numbers to make them play something, do that first.  If you have Angel of the Lord in hand with a negate or two, let them play a battle-winner first and immediately respond to your negate with your Dominant.  If they don’t have the back-up in hand, you saved your Dominant(s).  If they do, you still win the battle and they spent resources.  Drain what you can before you just throw Dominants down, particularly if you’ll be able to recur your own resources later.

  1. Count your opponent’s cards and pay attention to what they have played.

There are only 4 Dominants in each deck (barring trades), and you need to know if your opponent has not played them.  If Angel of the Lord is still out there, your large characters are not as safe holding a weapon, and a solo-block may become a loss.  If Christian Martyr hasn’t been played, a band may be the best way to go.  Drawing out those Dominants before the late-game is sometimes crucial to be sure that your battle-winners actually win you the rescue or block when the game is on the line.

There are also a limited number of characters in each theme, and drafting usually won’t change that much, particularly for the offenses.  Keep track of who has been discarded, and try to ensure that the ‘cogs’ of their themes (Elders of the City, Ruth, Gabriel, John, etc.) are accounted for with what you have left to play.

Counting how many battle-winners and negates have gone to discard is also key, so that you know the support in each brigade and when to clear the discard pile (with Ashtaroth Worship or Sing and Praise).

  1. Know your deck.

Knowing your opponent’s deck is very important, but because of the addition of packs and trading, you won’t know everything they are using.  You can, however, know your own deck.  What Enhancement support is still in your deck?  How many Heroes in each brigade are in deck, discard, and play?  Knowing these things is critical, so that you can plan out your turns and make the most of the resources you have available to you at that moment.

  1. Have fun!

Not having fun and getting frustrated will make you play poorly, and will sour your experience regardless.  Winning isn’t everything, but if you are distracted by your anger at the soul drought or the Dominant-stomping you are receiving, you will make errors and you can’t afford those when luck is already against you.  Focus on the plays that have been made, laugh with your opponent at the crazy things you or they drafted, enjoy interactions in the battle phase, take comfort in the fellowship, but don’t let yourself focus on what is upsetting you.

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